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Roll the Truck

Think back to the time of VoiceCon 2003 that was held in Washington, D.C., and for the last time. Snow caused the slowing down of traffic, disrupted schedules and delayed commercial passenger travel. Still, there were three specific take-aways from VoiceCon that year for me.First was the warm and fuzzy REI jacket embroidered with VOICECON, I still have mine and wife is upset because she say's it's worn - not exactly in those words. It's still warm though. The second was the excitement in and about VoiceCon. In spite of the weather, those that showed up weren't disappointed. IPT was in full discussion.

Troubleshooting IP networks, at least when asked the question, was akin to asking a kid high on sugar and soft drinks about what or where the problem is. Much has changed since this time but one key lesson still rings true today, and that is the more time you spend upfront, planning, assessing and readying your network, the less time you will spend troubleshooting after cutover. There are still some, including me, that gauge effectiveness with the test of time. The relevance that also remains today is in how we persuade and sell customers, whoever they are, with what we want them to do. Only nowadays, we have to be right more than some of the time.

My fuzzy jacket has seen a lot of action since the D.C. show. Back then I said our MACs (Moves-Adds-Changes) revenue was down about 5%, due to the number of IP-PBXs we were installing. I also stated that our opportunity revenues were up and by that I mean, firewalls, switches, routers, backup systems and all those trimmings that go into the network that traditional telephony providers normally didn't provide. Recently, we've been studying the numbers for 1996-2007, 12 full years of data, and here's a peek at what we discovered.

Our MAC revenue went back up, and we attribute this to new customers and to limited resources on the part of our SMB clients. We also group into MACs our new IT work: changing firewall rules or adding a component, similar to telephony MACs. What can we say about MACs? What we do to earn revenue for MACs has changed and the MACs have changed in depth and breadth, so there's seemingly a "double paradigm."

Our fleet costs (cost to roll) averaged 14% of our annual expenses prior to 2000. We deployed IP-PBXs beginning in 1999. From 2000 until 2003 our fleet costs averaged 7% of expenses. Afterwards, even accounting for fuel increases, our costs remained at 7% of our expenses. What can we say about fleet costs? For us, IPT/IT technology does appear to help us become greener.

Most (65%) of the IP-PBXs we originally deployed have been replaced with Hybrid IP-PBXs that we have installed since 2004. We are now beginning to plan the larger IP-PBX installations with IP-PBXs, not hybrids. So as we begin to replace IP-PBXs with new solutions, my gut tells me something else is going to change. Only this time, I don't have the same anxiety I had before. But thinking back, I didn't have anxiety when we hit the street running with IP-PBXs, at least not until later.

We have proactively built stronger customer networks by implementing better infrastructure improvements--managed switches and fiber with improved security blending hosted services with less appliances. Of course we electrically bullet-proof them with dual conversion UPSes and circuit protection. The notable differences are the IP-PBXs themselves and the associated gear. They are better and better equipped than before. With each step this time around, it appears we are taking solid steps forward instead of the prior, one step forward, 10 steps backwards approach. Progress for the interconnect company really is gauged in the wrong terms. It isn't about how many boxes or solutions you can sell but how effective they are and whether or not the customer remains or bails.

This year, I expect our IP-PBX solutions will increase and our Hybrids to begin to wane from what the Dell'Oro Group said would begin by 2010. No one said to change your business model, yet we have and so have you. These changes take years to realize from what was gained or lost and then learned in the process. These lessons and associated changes don't mean that I think TDM is dead; it will remain for many years. Displacement of TDM isn't likened to a battle but more like a war. It also doesn't mean that IPT won't dominate, because we all know it will. What I think it all does mean is just as in life, we don't live in an all-or-nothing world, and we do have choices. TDM will continue to be a choice out of economic reasons and even reasons of safety/reliability. What you don't know and I can't predict is when TDM will be dead, if ever in our lifetime. Let's face it, until the North American Telecommunications Network is primarily "IP"--and it's not--then TDM will remain. Still, we cannot forget the rules of IT time--meaning that in IT time, what's not possible today may just be a new release, service or product offering next week.

In a recent post I made the comment about "dragging my feet." The reader questioning it may not understand my intention - but I'll try again: we can't sell and then hope that the solution sticks. Whatever we put out there must remain effective a long time. The customer doesn't see the factory labels on their phones -they see my name in their Rolodex or stored away as a speed dial number to call for help. I want visibility, but not the kind that destroys the customer's confidence in what we do. That's the nature of the SMB world and the psychology of customers. Not understanding this nature leads to a short life span as a viable partner supporting these customers.

What I don't miss is wearing ourselves out with truck rolls to battle traffic, then to arrive onsite to fight brush fires. What I do like are the opportunities to sit down and talk with customers proactively about what we can or can't do to improve their businesses. Our business model is service and this model doesn't change in its sense of urgency--but how we conduct our business has, as has how we deploy our solutions. Maybe, just maybe, my old ragged VOICECON jacket will see better IPT in the days ahead, and maybe someone will see to replacing it with something as good or better than before. (Size XXL)

Come to think of it, I was saying the same thing about TDM back then. Even so, rolling the truck back then wasn't a good thing for customers, especially in an era of TDM bashing. Looks like its still not--and you can say it, "at least not for my customers." In reality, customers are doing less, still spending maybe differently and having me (the vendor) doing more work when they do call.